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General: U.S. Needs New Generation of Nuclear Weapons to Counter Russia, China and North Korea

The United States needs a new generation of non-strategic nuclear weapons of various yields so that Washington has options to escalate during a potential nuclear war, according to U.S. Strategic Command. That is the reason that the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) calls for the development of new low yield nuclear weapons.

“While our nuclear posture is successful in deterring our adversaries today, we require a mix of yields and improved platforms to credibly deter the threats of the near future,” Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 4 in his written testimony.

“The NPR directs near-term fielding of a low-yield SLBM capability, and in the longer term, pursuit of a modern nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM). These capabilities are necessary to enhance the flexibility and responsiveness of our nuclear forces to ensure potential adversaries understand they cannot achieve their objectives through force and there is no benefit in the use of nuclear weapons - in any scenario.”

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Hyten specifically cited Russia’s alleged “escalate to de-escalate” doctrine—which most experts on Russia’s nuclear doctrine have cast doubts upon—as a justification for the Pentagon’s aggressive new posture.

“Russia’s increased ‘non-strategic nuclear weapons’ and evolving doctrine of first-use in a limited conflict, give evidence of their perceived advantage at lower levels of conflict,” Hyten said. “North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear capabilities demonstrate the belief that nuclear weapons provide escalation options against the U.S. and our allies in the Pacific. We must counter these dangerous perceptions with supplemental capabilities to our previously planned modernization programs.”

Hyten also noted China’s nuclear modernization. “China’s continued long-term military modernization of both conventional and strategic forces has implications in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” Hyten said.

“They are aggressively modernizing their mobile nuclear forces and re-engineering their long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple nuclear warheads. China is swiftly developing and testing a hypersonic-glide vehicle capability, a technology used to defeat ballistic missile defenses. China’s pursuit of conventional global strike capabilities, offensive counter-space capabilities, and exploitation of computer networks also raises questions about its global aspirations. These developments – coupled with a lack of transparency on nuclear issues such as force disposition and size – impact regional and strategic stability.”

In Hyten’s view, a new generation of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons would help to deter such adversaries. “These enhanced deterrence capabilities ensure adversaries clearly understand U.S. resolve and do not miscalculate the consequences of nuclear use, raising the nuclear threshold and reducing the likelihood of nuclear weapon employment,” Hyten said.

However, Hyten did not explain exactly how a new generation of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons would raise a potential adversaries’ nuclear threshold.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.